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Net-Zero Carbon Emissions: Pipe Dream or Future Reality?

January 6, 2021

Joining hundreds of countries around the world, Canada has declared its intention to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In an effort to make this a reality, Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, was recently introduced into Parliament by Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister.


Before we dive into the new law, let’s start with the basics:
Net-zero emissions would mean that Canada’s economy emits no greenhouse gas emissions or offsets any emissions they do make.
‘Offsetting’ emissions is where greenhouse gas emissions that are still produced are absorbed by natural or technological means (think in terms of tree planting, or technologies that intercept carbon before it is released into the air).


The ultimate goal of the proposed law is to hold the federal government accountable in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. The law will try to achieve this through setting targets, monitoring progress and reporting on results. Sounds ideal, right? The provisions in this proposed law; however, only apply to the federal government. The Bill does not contain any mechanisms to compel cooperation by the provinces nor does it hold provincial governments accountable. However, to succeed, Canada will absolutely need provincial support.

The Bill requires the federal government to set ‘binding’ climate targets for the milestone years of 2030, 2035, 2040 and 2045. Specific targets have not yet been set, nor has the government prescribed how it will meet them. Rather, the legislation would create a new, independent advisory body tasked with advising the Minister on such matters.


This Bill proposes that government ministries and Crown corporations set national targets and provides mechanisms for accountability (such as regular reporting requirements for example).


Notably absent from the Bill in its current form, are penalties or enforcement mechanisms that would kick in should emissions not be reduced as proposed. However, the Bill has not yet come into force, and will be reviewed and revised over the coming months.
This post was co-authored by

Richard Bereti and Nicola Virk. Want more useful updates on recent environmental legislation? Contact Richard Bereti at [email protected] or anyone else from our team listed on the Authors page.


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Important Notice: The information contained in this Article is intended for general information purposes only and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. It is not intended as legal advice from Harper Grey LLP or the individual author(s), nor intended as a substitute for legal advice on any specific subject matter. Detailed legal counsel should be sought prior to undertaking any legal matter. The information contained in this Article is current to the last update and may change. Last Update: January 6, 2021.

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